40-Mile River Moose Hunt, 2012

In September of 2011, my hunting partner Joe and I exceeded all expectations (mainly our own) and returned alive from an isolated moose hunting float trip with a nice bull.  You can read about that epic adventure HERE.  We decided to double down and return to the water and the wild for another adventure.  This is the story of the 2012 float hunt.

September 5

Joe is set to arrive.  He is connecting through Anchorage and supposed to be landing late in Fairbanks.  A terrible wind storm moved into Anchorage and I kept checking the flight status to see if he would be able to make it to town.  Joe later told me that the landing in Anchorage was rather tenuous and that when the plane touched down spontaneous cheering broke out around the cabin.

After several delays and even boardings and unboardings, the flight was finally cancelled.  Joe told me that he was not sad about having to sleep on mildewed and stained carpet in the airport, but he did groan and mumble to customer service because he had to go claim his luggage, re-check the luggage, and pass through security again.  This chore was compounded by the fact that Joe feels obligated to travel with enough equipment to outfit a light brigade should a terror cell spontaneously activate in any city Joe is passing through and he be needed to equip the National Guard as they are activated.  After claiming his gear by clearing off a whole side of a luggage carousel, Joe limped back to his gate, crawled under a rack of seats Terminal style, shot me a text, and called it a day.

September 6

I picked Joe up around lunch and gave him the keys to my truck.  When I first saw Joe at the airport he was pulling this contraption that looked like one of those pallet jacks that workers move around WalMart late at night.  Turns out that he had ratchet strapped his huge gear tub to his gun case (he has the nicest heavy duty dual rifle gun case that I have seen), thrown a 55 gallon dry bag with straps across his shoulders, and strolled out of the airport with enough gear to make Lewis and Clark weep.  We headed toward my house.

Joe planned to grab a combat nap, go get his license, and gear shop a little.  We planned to link up when I got off early that afternoon and go sight in our rifles.  On the way to the range we stopped at a local hunting store to talk to my friend Bryan and to pick up some self-reporting targets.  We ran through McD’s drive-through and then drove the 25 miles up Murphy Dome to the range.  This target range is not maintained and is better described as a free-fire zone that the Troopers don’t respond to.  There are pallets and old TVs everywhere and a 75 foot high rock face that makes a good backstop.  If you back all the way up and place your target near the top of the rock face, you can squeeze out about 165 yards.  Joe only needed 100 yards so distance was not an issue.  There is an extremely rocky road that leads to the top of the rock face and I drove up there to set the targets.

I had brought two cardboard backers and when I went to affix the self-reporting targets to them, I discovered that the targets that I bought were not adhesive.  We each went into MacGyver mode and sought to affix the targets to a backer.  I found an unused tub of Sweet and Sour Nugget sauce and went the glue route.  Joe (he calls himself Monk from the TV show and thus I don’t feel bad making the reference) went Rainman/Monk on me and whittled two cords out of nearby shrubs.  He then pulled his leatherman and used the awl to punch two rows of perfectly semetrical holes into the target and the backer and sewed the two together.  His product looked like he ordered it from Cabellas.  My target looked like the lazy fourth grader who forgot about his science fair project until the night before and then slathered cardboard with sticky orange paste.

We backed the truck down the hill and stopped when I heard a loud thunk.  I stopped to discover a rock that we had run over (consider this to be a stuck pin) and I found a spot to turn around and drive back to the bottom.  When we reached the bottom, I ranged off 100 yards and set up a table and a chair with a rest.  Joe went to load his rifle and found out that his operational security was clicking along at an A+ rate.  His super nice gun case was locked and the keys to the impenetrable gun case were 25 miles away at my house.  I really didn’t want to drive back to get the keys and I was certain that my Sweet and Sour target would not last that long.  Given mine and Joe’s background and that we had a Leatherman and a zip-tie…….well the case was open in about three minutes with no damage.

We both put a couple of rounds through Joe’s shoulder-wrecker (.325 WinMag) and jogged up to check the targets.  On the way up I fell and lacerated my hand pretty significantly on a sharp rock.  I commented about how sharp the rocks were at this range.  Joe’s gun was locked in and both targets held up quite well.  Understandably, Joe’s target was in great shape, but mine was still in place and there was a cool orange halo all around the edges where the sauce had spattered.

We ran to WalMart and bought all of our food.  Joe opined that since weight and space were not an issue (we had requested the largest available cooler with our raft rental), he wanted to eat good this year.  We planned out plenty of hot meals and bought good meat, cheese, and bread for lunches.  We worked through a couple of wrinkles getting our raft delivered and went to bed feeling pretty good about shoving off the next morning.  (The raft wrinkles involved the owner’s son filling in for his dad and not communicating well with his father out of state.  The raft got delivered late at night and we didn’t have time to frame it out and set up it the day before)

September 7

We got up and headed southeast toward the 40-Mile River.  We had decided to float the 40-Mile this year as a second option.  We had originally planned to float the Nabesna River, but Joe had concerns about the trail to access the river and I did not like some of the biology reports from the area.  We agreed on our second option and we were able to talk to several people to get recent animal and water level reports.

We drove the 315 miles to the river and discovered along the way that the brakes on my truck were soft.  We bought fluid and put it in and just thought that maybe the reservoir had been low.  We arrived at our first put-in option and Joe made the decision that the water was too low and that we would regret launching from there (Dennison Fork).  We drove 50 miles to the South Fork just north of Chicken, Alaska and decided to launch from there.  We drove right down to the edge of the river and were disappointed to see lots of gear and people.  We had known that we might be playing bumper boats on this hunt but we had hoped for the best.  A quick conversation, and a couple of sniffs,  revealed that the three groups were miners leaving the river before winter.  We got to talk to them and one of the guys was really friendly.  He showed us his take for the year and gave us some info on the river.  We unloaded all the gear and then I left with the shuttle driver to place my truck at the takeout.  (One of our friends was kind enough to help us shuttle my truck in exchange for a little gas money and the chance to see a new part of the state)  Joe stayed in place to frame out the raft and to load the gear in a Monk approved fashion.

On the way to the takeout, the brakes on the truck got really soft again.  I put in about half of the remaining fluid and made it to the parking area.  I knew that we were going to have a problem when it was time to drive out.  Our friend helped me to drop the truck off and then drove me back to Joe at the launch point.  This took about 2 hours.  Our friend dropped me off and headed back to Fairbanks.

The raft looked river-worthy and ready to go.  Joe, however, was fit to be tied.  When the raft was dropped off (late), the company had not dropped off all of the hardware or even the right frame poles.  Joe had spent two hours willing a frame together and literally had to use zip ties to hold the frame together and get it onto the pontoons.  The raft was holding air, floating high, and looked useable.  However, after we added two adults, a weeks’ worth of gear, and hopefully a moose, Joe was not certain that we wouldn’t dive like a submarine.  We had no other options, so we loaded the raft and floated out.

We didn’t start until late afternoon, so we decided to only float for an hour and then find a camping spot.  We decided on a good spot that provided a comfortable tenting area.  We quickly set up and decided on brats for dinner.  As Joe put together his stove, I set about for my first wilderness poo.  I only mention this because it was at this point, one hour into the trip, that we realized that we had no toilet paper.  We did have plenty of wet wipes, but no TP.

When we had been gear shopping prior to leaving, Joe had purchased parts to overhaul his stove.  He has a kick-butt MSR stove that he has been using for 17 years and he decided that it needed an overhaul.  SIDE-NOTE:  When people tell me we are going camping, I grab my gear and say “let’s go”.  The only quality gear that I have is stuff that I have copied after seeing Joe use it.  When you tell Joe you are going camping, he asks “how long, how are we getting there, what is our weight limit, what will the temperature be, and do we want to eat Greek, Tempura, or short-order?”  This guy has an awesome assortment of gear to choose from.  For instance, he custom chose a tent for this trip from his collection of tents and he made a perfect choice.

After Joe overhauled the stove, and I made my wilderness deposit, we set about to cook dinner.  Joe had put something together wrong and when he flicked his lighter I got a free front row seat to a face flambe.  He was leaning over the stove and flames shot up about 8 feet and enveloped his head like an orange bonnet.  The WHOOSH was synonymous with my laughter.  I quickly remembered that I was an adult and checked to see if Joe still possessed flesh on his skull.  Miraculously he was perfectly fine and laughed with me while he flicked away the remnants of his eyebrows.

The brats cooked quickly and we ate a low-key meal.  Joe saved the brat water and chugged it like a salted caramel hot chocolate from Starbucks.  Between sips, he looked over the pan at me and said, “It’ll save me from making coffee tonight.

Our camping spot was located at 64.04.551 / 141.46.304.  We settled into our sleeping bags and brought an end to day one.

This year, in most of the photos of me, you will see the same wool hat.  I have decided to close each day by allowing the hat to chime in with a summary of its day or condition.  The description will follow the characters HAT STATUS.

HAT STATUS: Dryer sheet fresh and ready for a long trip.  Couldn’t smell better

 September 8

We broke camp and floated for a short time.  While we were floating, we passed through a small set of rapids.  Directly below the rapids, Joe suddenly called “Gun”.  I didn’t know whether to duck or to preemptively start firing so I turned to look at Joe.  He was pointing to the water in front of the boat and called “gun” again.  I looked into the water and picked up the outline of a gun.  Without thinking, I bailed from the raft and bent to retrieve the gun.  Since boats have no brakes, and we were traversing rapids, Joe obeyed the laws of physics and ran me over.  Fortunately I survived the minor bump and held onto the gun.  I attempted to make the gun safe as I clamored back into the boat and discovered that the gun was rusted shut.

We found a great gravel bar with a high bluff directly across the river.  The bluff looked accessible and there appeared to be hunting on both sides of the river.  We set up camp and the tent.  Because we were on gravel, we had to tie the tent out to rocks instead of staking it.

I fished a little and caught some really large greyling.  We climbed the bluff and discovered that we had an amazing view of a nice valley and a slough across the river.  The bugs came out and forced us into our bug shirts.  An afternoon rain drove the bugs away and chilled us while it got us wet.  We didn’t see anything and we climbed back down and floated across to camp.  We had Mountain House on tortillas for dinner.  We camped at 64.05.795 / 141.45.873.  During the day we saw two other groups float by our position.

HAT STATUS: One good day of camp smoke and climbing sweat under my band.  Still smelling fresh and feeling spry.

September 9

We had decided the night before not to move.  We ate an early breakfast and climbed the bluff.  We spent 30 minutes glassing an area where I thought I saw a moose.  Turned out to be a downed tree and we spent the morning calling and glassing.  The wind came up really strong and then turned stronger.  I looked down to where the boat was tied and saw that the boat had been blown from the beach and was only held by its line.  The line was being frayed over rocks and we got concerned about a break-away.  As we were eyeing the boat, a really strong gust hit us (we estimated 50 mph) and we watched the tent get blown down the gravel bar.  Joe left me on the gun and hustled down to retie the boat and deal with the tent.  We ended up crossing back for lunch and tying the tent out again and putting large rocks inside of the tent to hold it into place.

We ate and watched another group float by.  We climbed back up and spent an evening hunt on top of the ridge.  We called and glassed but saw no animals.  We had fried egg and ham wraps for lunch and chicken and black bean enchiladas for dinner.  We decided to move on in the morning.

HAT STATUS:  The lack of toilet paper or Kleenex is adding to my starchiness.  The dual climbs up the ridge added a salty and musky scent to mask the remainder of the fabric softener.

September 10

We got up and broke camp.  As we cast off and floated past a sandbar on the opposite shore, we saw super fresh moose tracks along the edge of the river.  We stopped right around the corner and I walked in behind the slough that we had been overlooking.  The area looked great but I couldn’t get anything to come to my calls.  We ended up floating 8 miles to the confluence of Buckskin Creek.  Along the way we stopped and hunted four prime-looking areas.

Almost every confluence that we passed had a miner’s claim on it.  All the claims were shuttered for the winter except a claim somewhere far down the river that housed two bubbas on an enormous hovercraft.  I know this because they blew by us several times a day for the next several days.  No matter how early and stealthily we would rise, the hovercrafts would roar by three times a day like the NY subway and blow all of the animals off of the river.

We stopped and camped at a shuttered claim.  The miner had chosen a great area with a nice view.  Buckskin Creek ran along the side of the camp and there was fresh sign everywhere.  There was a great firepit set up and we had our first campfire of the trip.  We had been cold all day and we consoled ourselves with burgers over a charcoal fire.  The temperature kept falling and we warmed up after dinner with a little fishing.  This was a great spot for fishing and we both caught some lunkers (me with a spinning rod and Joe with a fly rod)

We had a great spot for the tent and we headed to bed early because of the cold.  I positioned another layer of clothes in my sleeping bag in case I got cold during the night.  I read for a while, switched off my headlamp, and prayed myself off to sleep.

HAT STATUS:  Today was a stalemate.  My scent didn’t get any better, but I really held my own on a somewhat lazy day.  I only got used as a hankie once today and I’m calling that new layer “character”.

September 11

This day started about 2 am when I woke myself up spinning in my sleeping bag.  This was not tossing and turning, this was survival by spinning.  I was so cold and I was shivering so hard that I thought that I was going to sever my spinal cord with my shaking.  I have never actually seen uranium ore weaponized by being spun into U-235 in a centrifuge, but I would put my intra-sleeping bag revolutions up against Iran’s centrifuges.  Stuxnet couldn’t have slowed me down (nerd tech joke).  This may sound like hyperbole, but I had to concentrate and will myself to don my extra pre-positioned layer.  I felt like Bear Grylls after one of his self-induced ice baths.  I’m not sure how close I was to actually dying, but I didn’t feel very far away.  The awesome- and I mean a-w-e-s-o-m-e- thing is that I left my heavy sleeping bag at home to save weight.

Joe woke up muttering and freezing so I didn’t feel like too much of a pansy.  He checked his watch and found out that it quit trying to measure the cold at 20F.  We don’t know how cold it actually got, but when I went to put in my contacts, they were frozen solid in their case.  IN SALT WATER (SALINE).  That shouldn’t happen.  We hurried from our tent to the sandy shore and spent 15 minutes doing calestinics and swearing at the moose for making this so hard.  We went to make breakfast and coffee and of course all of our drinking water was frozen.  We scooped up a kettle of beaver fever and boiled it a couple of extra minutes.  Joe got some good snaps of me cooking bacon and pancakes and the hot breakfast steeled our resolve.

We spent the morning hiking and hunting back along the creek.  It was a primo area, but nothing was moving.  After lunch, Joe started what became a theme for the trip.  Joe pointed at the ridge behind camp and said “Let’s pop up on that ridge and see what we can see from up there”.  This was to be the first of many times this trip that he would suggest we “pop” up a ridge.  If you have never hunted Alaska, know that everything looks closer and smaller than it really is because the area is so freaking huge.  The ridge that looks right on the river is 600 yards away over tundra, 800 feet high, and covered with rock slides and burned over timber.

On this trip, Joe told me that part of his heritage is Belgian.  I found out that his last name actually means “runs down and catches mountain goats”.  We left camp and started climbing a caribou trail up the ridge.  The only thing worse than climbing a ridge on a caribou trail is following Joe up a caribou trail.  He never slows and never tires, but he is kind enough to stop when my wheezing signals impending heart failure and pretend to survey the area while I gulp air like an escaped goldfish.

From 700 feet up the ridge, we had an awesome view of the drainage and the surrounding areas.  We heard a barrage of gunfire but could not determine its location.  Either a huge moose would not succumb to some lucky hunting party or Paul Revere mixed up the number of lanterns and the British were advancing over the tundra.

We glassed and called for hours to no avail.  The bugs were terrifying and we spent the afternoon hiding behind our bug shirts.  When we decided to head back, Joe wanted to “pop out” onto a rock ridge overlooking the river and the area across the river.  Because we were already so high, we did not have to climb much, we just went parallel along the face.  When we maneuvered out onto the rock ridge, I realized that we were hanging out over nothing like one of the presidential noses on Mount Rushmore.  As I am terrified of heights, I can assure you that this was not my favorite part of the trip.  I spread out on all fours and affixed myself to the ridge like I was velcroed.  After 5 minutes of glassing, Joe declared the area devoid of moose.  This was convenient because I don’t think I could have shot my rifle while lying flat on my back and shaking like a leaf.

We descended to camp and to a dinner of grilled ham steak and mixed vegetables with cheese.  Prior to crawling into my sleeping bag I layered on clothing like I was going to play paintball.  I lasted 3 minutes in my sleeping bag before I started muttering incoherently and shedding clothes.  Thus ended another day and made way for new expectations.

HAT STATUS:  Neutrality is a thing of the past.  The climbs turned the corner from musty to sour.  This guy stuffed orange peels between his sour head and me.  The citrus is a nice touch.

September 12

The night was not nearly as cold.  We broke camp and floated.  We stopped for several short hunts in likely areas.  We passed a group camping at an awesome spot at the confluence of the North Fork and the South Fork.  They looked to be hunting right from camp and had some awesome area to cover.

Early in the day we saw a shirt lodged in a tree just above the ice line.  A little later we saw a sweatshirt.  By the time we saw the pants, just after lunch, we realized that a miner’s cache had been placed too low or else we were witnessing a murder over distance.  When we got to the outer jacket, we pulled over and checked the pockets.  We didn’t locate any ID or pocket litter nor any random miner body parts.  We enjoyed nice weather all day, but the bugs were still attacking in hoards.

At dusk, while we were floating, we finally had our first bull answer my cow call.  We were slipping around an oxbow and I visually scoured the shore with my rifle on high alert.  The bull called to us again just as we were coming back onto a straight stretch.  It was then that we saw the other raft and realized that we were calling to another hunting group.  We never saw the other group and we quietly floated by.  As far as we know, that group is still searching for that moose.

We camped on a sandbar with fresh wolf tracks.  It looked like a wolf had run the moose right down the woodline while another wolf possibly shadowed them in the trees.  We had brats again for dinner and Joe passed on the brat water this time.  I think the first time taught him his lesson.  We had a really good and soft tent location and we drifted off to deep sleep.

HAT STATUS:  The oranges backfired and I have the sweet and sickly smell of death.  This guy wiped his brat fingers on me and now he’s wearing me to sleep right next to the wall of the tent.  There’s no way a grizzly doesn’t just bite me in half right through the tent tonight.

September 13

We set off early again into the cold and had the best hunt yet on a little ridge about a 1/4 mile from the river.  I had been willing to glass the bottom but Joe wanted to “pop up onto the ridge”.  He was right to choose this place and the area was fantastic.  There were piles of moose poop that were still steamy and we knew that we had just missed some moose moving off the browse and into the drainage.  We called for about two hours and I was really surprised that nothing responded.  We floated for about two hours and I spotted a break in two ridges that looked like a drainage.  Sure enough, with my glasses, I saw a small creek running out of the cleft.  We decided to explore.

Because of the river features, we had to beach about five hundred yards below the drainage and walk to it.  There were nice cobblestones paving the shore and Joe commented that it was like walking in downtown Charleston.  Then, the river got mean and the shore developed a 45 degree angle and covered the rocks with black moss.  There was a 12 foot high cliff preventing us from entering the woods so we had to stick to the rocks.  We looked like the cartoon characters that ran into a room with the floor covered in marbles.  Joe guaranteed that if we tried to cross back over the rocks hauling quarters that someone was losing a hip.

I purposely kept the location of this drainage vague because it was the best area that we hunted.  The drainage ran perpendicular to the river for miles and allowed moose a corridor to escape hunting pressure.  The drainage ran toward another river and a huge mountain.  The little valley was narrow enough so that we could shoot across from one side.  There were several side drainages that ran into this one.  The moose had pulverized a trail system into the bottom and the walking was easy along the trail.  We followed fresh moose sign down the trail and called for a while.  We ended up seeing no moose, but we noted this area for future hunting.  There was a great camping spot near the mouth and a great trail system.  This was an area that would be worth hunting for a week or so and you would be almost guaranteed to catch a bull working the bottom looking for stray cows.

As we made our way back to the river and exited the drainage, we saw an orange raft floating our way.  The raft was about 1/4 mile away and was not moving very fast.  We decided to try to get back on the river ahead of the raft.  We had to clamor back over the cobbled death trap and we untied and cast off.  As we glided into the current of the river, I cast a glance back at the other raft and saw that they were paddling furiously.  Most raft hunters only use their paddles to steer and to avoid obstacles.  These guys looked like someone had told them there was an Olympic gold medal to be won around the next corner.  After about 500 more yards, the other boat had closed dramatically and I could tell that the boat was riding low and that there was a massive set of moose horns on the back of the raft.  Joe and I decided to let them pass and we pulled out of the current.

Turns out it was the husband and wife team that we had seen hunting at the confluence.  They were desperately trying to catch us to let us know that they had heard a bull up in the hills answering our cow calls.  They had already bagged their moose and they were generously trying to help us find one.  They pulled alongside and the wife had to talk because the husband was out of breath from keeping their moose-hauling raft up on plane.  They told us that they had heard a bull answering us at the bend right before the drainage.  We profusely thanked them and pulled over to the shore.

We hiked back up the river and spent two hours calling and trying to find the mysterious moose.  It took us several hours to realize that a terrain feature at the bend had funneled our calls back to the river and the bull that they heard was us.  As this light bulb came on it was like a kick in the shorts.  We trudged back to our boat and cast off again.

The wasted hunt blew our schedule for the day and we didn’t get to do any more hunting.  The terrain conspired to compound our problems and the river offered us no camping spots.  Darkness enveloped us quickly and brought along the cold as its partner.  We shivered and squinted and still couldn’t find anywhere to camp.  We were trying to avoid sand bars because we had already had one bad experience on this trip with the superfine sand getting into all of our gear.

Joe got increasingly agitated as the darkness grew.  There were cliffs on one or both sides and the opposite sides were littered with broken timber.  Joe is very skilled at river navigation, camping, and outdoor living as a whole.  Because of this, he prides himself on avoiding dangerous situations.  His attitude continued to sour as he second guessed himself and cursed the terrain.  We could hear a large channel of rapids ahead and Joe declared that there was no safe way to navigate the rapids at night and that we may have to tie up and sleep on the boat.

At the literal last bend before the rapids, we found a wide stretch of sand.  We made for the sandbar and found that it was a confluence where a little creek flowed into the river.  As we neared the shore, I was able to make out the rooflines of several cabins in the trees.  As Joe beached the raft, I walked up the hill to check on the buildings.  It turned out that we were at a mining claim that had been shuttered for the winter.  There were five wooden cabins, satellite dishes, a bulldozer, and a russian heated bath house.  This was serious infrastructure for the middle of nowhere.  There was a sign near the main cabin that warned that there were active bear deterrents all around the property.  I turned on my headlamp and saw scores of nail boards laid out and ready to puncture my boot.

There was another sign on the main (locked) cabin that said if you need immediate heat or shelter, the last cabin along the river was unlocked and there was a fire laid.  I went back to tell Joe that we could camp in the cabin for the night.  Joe was still fuming at himself for getting caught on the river after dark and he was hesitant about staying in the cabin.  Joe doesn’t like meeting strangers in the wild and he is less than excited about using other people’s cabins.

He grumpily (very grumpily) agreed to rack out on the cabin floor and he set about making dinner while I unloaded the boat.  We decided on grilled ham and cheese and he fired up the skillet.  As I finished carrying the last dry bag ashore, he was just flipping the first sandwich.  He had scorched the bottom and he angrily muttered that he would eat this one.  After he grilled the other side, he placed the sandwich onto one of his plates.  He suddenly remembered that he had not heat sterilized the plate so he put the sandwich back into the skillet to cook off the germs and he sterilized the plate.  He flipped the sandwich and went to put it into the now-safe plate.  In his haste, he dropped the sandwich onto the wet sand.  With a guttural cave-man like “Oooo-gah”, he turned and flung the sandwich into the river.  The cheese and hammy skipped twice and nearly crossed the river.  I brayed like a donkey and laughed in his face and he finally broke out of his funk.  We finished dinner and looked at our maps in the cabin.  We discovered that we had made a navigational error and that we were only a 1/2 mile from the takeout.  We concluded that this area would be our last stand and we rolled out our mats and sleeping bags on the floor of the cabin to end another day.

HAT STATUS:  The hikes, climbs, and long day on the river seem to have multiplied my stench.  I now think that I would be unbeatable as a Fear Factor challenge.  If you had to filter and drink water from me, death could result.  Do they allow stunts on that show where death is an option?  I’m being worn to bed as well, this is gonna get worse.

September 14

We got up for our earliest hunt yet, eschewed breakfast, and hunted the ridge behind the cabin.  As we left the cabin, Joe discovered that a moose had walked through the cabins the night before and had left prints inside of our tracks.  That seemed downright disrespectful.  We made a big circle behind the mine and did not see much sign of mining.  It looked like someone had purchased an old mining claim and was building a summer paradise.  Our circle led us onto yet another ridge and we found that there was a really nice valley that the drainage ran through.  We hunted up there and decided to spend the day on the ridge.  Joe crept back to camp and put together a load that consisted of the stove, coffee pot, coffee supplies, and food.  We ate more hot sandwiches and sipped hot coffee on top of the ridge and watched the valley below.

The bugs attacked like clockwork at 2pm.  A heavy snowstorm followed the bugs and drove them back through the gates of hell, or wherever they came from.  I had to retreat under a deadfall and we had no chance to see the valley below.  The storm passed and the visibility improved again.  We hunted until last light but never saw any wildlife.

We decided to spend one last night in the cabin and then float to the takeout the next morning.  When I walked into the cabin I thought that I had taken a wrong turn and entered the outhouse.  Whoever had been staying in that cabin smelled like jockstrap.  We changed the tenor of the odor of the cabin by frying some bacon, browning some ground moose, and putting some black bean burritos together.  No matter what else occurred on this trip, we ate pretty well.  We knew that we would be able to road hunt on the 70 mile drive out, but we went to bed a little dejected.

HAT STATUS:  I have lost the will to live and almost escaped tonight.  When the head was bent over the stove cooking dinner I dove off and headed for the blue flame.  There was a “whoomp” when I got close but I was grabbed, beat against some Carharts, and thrown back onto the head.  I might have burned off two layers of character, but I remain singed, repugnant, and inconsolable.

September 15

There was a heavy frost last night and packing the boat was a chilly effort.  We made it to the takeout in short order and got all the gear on the shore.  Right across the river from the takeout was a beautiful cabin and we wondered how people obtained deeds to places like that on public land.  Joe started braking down the frame and I went to get the truck.  As I was backing down the steep incline to the river, the significant lack of brakes became apparent.  I discovered that the emergency brake was also not an option and I was fortunate to have had the foresight to put the truck into low 4×4 and low gear.  The engine acted as a brake and kept me from launching my truck like a boat.

We loaded all the gear and drove up onto the bridge to work underneath the truck.  We discovered the leak and pulled back into the parking lot to consider our options.  Joe called his brother (mechanic) on the sat-phone and described our options.  His brother opined that we were screwed and wished us good luck with a chuckle.  We kicked around ideas back and forth and cooked a hot breakfast on the tailgate and made coffee.  Joe was in favor of creeping down the mountain in low gear and trying to not use the brakes.  I envisioned the transfer case rupturing and us winning a Darwin Award the next spring when they found our crispy corpses.

In the end we decided to walk to the nice cabin and beg for some tools to try to crimp the brake line.  There was a nice lady at home who told us that her husband was working at the shop just around the corner.  She threw us into a trailer on a 4-wheeler and ran us down the road to a heated state workshop with lots of tools.  Her husband was a run-of-the-mill crusty Alaskan that you would expect to find at a shop in the middle of nowhere.  He seemed excited to help and to cut to the chase, in three hours of dirty labor, Joe and Crusty plugged the cylinder and got us three functional brakes.  Crusty put some of his own fluid into the truck, refused our offer of cash, and sent us on our way.

We road hunted our way back down the Taylor Hwy without success.  We found numerous piles of caribou carci and a skinned wolf.  The truck ran fine and we made it to Tok in time for an awesome dinner at Fast Eddy’s.  There were numerous guided groups that had just flown in from 40-Mile Air and they were showing off 60 and 70 inch moose horns.  We were semi-disgusted, but we didn’t have $25,000 to throw at a critter (yeah, that’s what those hunts cost).  We spent $750 each on an expensive camping trip and got to see another part of the state.  We finished dinner, drove to Fairbanks, and were in bed by 12:30am.

HAT STATUS:  I’m finally off the head.  I got tossed into the dark laundry room and landed in the basket of underwear.  Everyone is complaining about my stench.  Screw these guys, they don’t know what I’ve been through over the last 9 days.

Aftermath:  We cleaned up the gear, returned the boat, and talked about plans for next year.  I got Joe on a plane and he returned back to his family.  I was able to hunt several times in the afternoon before the season ended.  One of the hunts I got to take the kids and they made some magical memories calling moose for me and waiting for giants to walk out of the woods.  Bryan and I have a chance for a late season cow hunt.  I still have a license and a bullet, so maybe I can stock the freezer yet.

Take Away:  Joe and I both agree that this float trip gives you access to massive amounts of land and there are certainly moose in the area.  However, the timing of the caribou hunt and all of the mining activity would probably keep us from choosing this hunt ever again.  The location was pretty close and the cost was low, but there are too many competing factors to place the hunt at the top of our list.  We did run into less boat traffic than we anticipated (there was significant road pressure and ATV pressure).  If you are considering doing this hunt, try lining up the Dennison Fork or being the first group at the South Fork / North Fork confluence.


5 Responses to “40-Mile River Moose Hunt, 2012”

  1. justmerayford Says:

    Well, Sorry you did not get a moose. I really enjoyed reading about it just the same. I know you enjoyed the trip also. A chance to do a trip like this is priceless. I’m sure you will get a moose sooner or later.

  2. kristine Says:

    your writing never ceases to amaze me! thank you!!

  3. Mom Says:

    Sorry about no moose, but entertaining story. I fail to see the enjoyment, but then again, I am not a hunter!

  4. Blog Says:

    Considering A Rivers Edge Moose Light Set…

    […] nge for a little gas money and the chance to see a new part of the state)  Joe […]…

  5. Tamilgun Says:

    Oh man… I remember those….

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